4 Challenges dental hygienists face during COVID

4 Challenges dental hygienists face during COVID

Dental hygienists face many challenges in their field, from fearful or dissatisfied patients, potential exposure to infections to limited access to proper tools. Still, hygienists learn how to handle these issues during their program and working with an experienced dentist. 

With COVID, many dental hygienists face working challenges in an industry not built for a never-ending pandemic. Many ask how they can treat and care for patients when their job consists of close contact and face-to-face communication during a global pandemic. 

Let’s look at 4 challenges dental hygienists face during COVID.

Potential Exposure to COVID 

Dental professionals face many dentistry challenges, like potential exposure to infections, i.e., HIV, SARs. In school, dental hygienists learn to take precautions, wearing masks, gloves, and protective gear against radiation. Dental professionals, particularly dental hygienist, have a high rate of exposure to infections.

Having a pandemic like COVID makes their job harder.  At the moment, there’s so much that is unknown about the virus and its long-term effects.  While many offices have tried to limit emergency care, delaying oral treatment may not be an option for many patients.   Here are some solutions that may help.

Potential solutions

  •  Follow the CDC and OSHA guidelines for providing safety in the workplace.
  • Offices making PPE accessible to dental hygienists
  • Developing specific office safety procedures for staff and patients
  • Eliminating waiting rooms and mandatory patient online/phone screening
  • Sterilizing equipment and workspaces
  • Performing in negative pressure rooms 
  • Using solutions that are 1.5% hydrogen peroxide

Dental hygienists should take precaution and learn from past health experiences, i.e., SARs, and protect themselves and patients from COVID.

Navigating through Telemedicine

As professionals, dental hygienists correspond with their patients in person, whether talking about treatment, collecting data, or cleaning their teeth.  But how do you connect with patients when you can’t physically communicate with them?

Although hygienists may be unfamiliar with teledental hygiene, this system allows them to communicate with patients efficiently. The teledental system will enable hygienists to create and implement personal oral hygiene plans and communicate with patients about potential issues and treatments via phone.  Hygienists can triage the patient via phone or video call to assess the situation further. They can then review the findings with the doctor to see if the patient must visit the office in person. 

During this time, patients may be even more anxious to go into the office. Dental hygienists can use this time to make patients feel at ease with the process as they communicate and actively listen to their patients in the comfort of the patients own home. 

The risk of using tools and equipment

Things nobody told me: Dental hygienists may have to limit the use of specific tools and equipment. 

Part of the dental hygienist’s job is to remove stains and plaque from teeth,  some even extract teeth and place temporary crowns, but some things may change because of COVID.  According to the CDC, SARS-CoV-2 can survive in aerosols for hours and on some surfaces for days. Dental hygienists use ultrasonic, air/water syringes, and other tools that create aerosols. 

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself.

  • Avoid using air/water syringes (creates aerosols)
  • Take precautions when using suction HEPA filtration. 

Recommended: Use a dental hand-piece with anti-retraction function with high evacuation suction and rubber dams to minimize droplet splatter and aerosol generation.

Losing your sense of purpose

Many dental hygienists may feel anxious and confused about their next move. Some may ask themselves if this field is for them or if they have a job during or after COVID. The stress and anxiety of the unknown can cause anyone to rethink their purpose or job choices.  It’s especially true as offices slowly reopen, and dental hygienists look for stable work. 

Dental hygienists are problem solvers, educators, and emphatic towards their patients and have adaptable skills. If you venture out dentistry during this time, you could look into public health education or something related to the many exceptional skills hygienists hold if you stay in dentistry, working as a dental researcher on crisis responses and protocol for COVID. 

Note: Dental hygienist programs have reconstructed their curriculum to include COVID responses, safety guidelines, and a better understanding of PPE and patient care.

Final Thought

Dental hygienists face new challenges every day. COVID brings its challenges to dentistry, making it difficult for dental hygienists to perform their duties. During this time, hygienists should educate themselves on the ever-changing COVID guidelines, take precautions, and advocate for themselves, peers, and patients. Hygienists should also remember to take it one step at a time and know that their role is an essential part of public health.

Additional note

Although not listed, issues with scheduling and communicating with the dentist(supervisor) during this time is another issue dental hygienist are having. Check this article out on how to both dentist and dental hygienist can develop a more cohesive relationship during COVID.

Are you a dental hygienist working during COVID? Are there things you weren’t aware of or thought you’ve noticed in your field during COVID? Let us know what challenges you’re facing or triumphs you’ve made during this time.


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About the author

Joycelyn Ghansah

Joycelyn Ghansah is a former Healthcare Organizer with a background public health, include reproductive and sexual health. When she's not freelance writing, she's transcribing interviews and researching ways to strengthen healthcare labor laws.

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